There Is No Hypothetical “Other” Common Core

Over the last few months there’s been an uptick in critiques of the Common Core. Some are legitimate (implementation!), some are asinine (indoctrination!), and some fall somewhere in between. One complaint that slots into the third category is that the Common Core simply isn’t the right collection of standards and curricular guidelines for getting the kind of teaching and learning we want. For example, here’s Shaun Johnson at HuffPo:

Without getting into the weeds of curriculum theory, information from the CCSSI makes it very plain that we’re dealing with something much more precise than generic standards. The mission of the CCSS is very clear that the ultimate purpose of education and schooling is to transfer the “knowledge and skills” in order to “compete successfully in the global economy.” Preparation for the world of work and economic competitiveness, increased productivity and efficiency, limit the kinds of conversations educators can have with students. It defines what knowledge and skills are important and admits unmistakably that an educated person is a productive worker.

This interpretation of the CCSS exhibits an incredible level of naiveté regarding political discourse in America. The official goal of the standards is to help students “compete” in the “global economy” because that’s the rhetoric people in focus groups want to hear. In the last five years every political contest has been about proving you care or know more about job creation, and so the proponents of the CCSS couched its justification in rhetoric about jobs. But that’s all it is. Relatively empty rhetoric. Is Johnson really arguing that delineating what type of algebraic transformations a 7th grader should know will limit what that student ultimately can learn and accomplish?

What Johnson hints at but doesn’t actually address is the question of what would have happened if the CCSS mission was to “develop well-rounded citizens who posses the skills needed to strengthen our Democracy.” Does Johnson believe that in an alternate universe we could have had a radically different group of curriculum experts design a radically different set of standards? I think the answer is a resounding no. The CCSS had buy-in from a diverse group of our best organizations and was designed by our best people. It was based on state-of-the-art thinking that emerged from a wide range of beliefs and life experiences. Regardless of the actual words used to talk about the CCSS, a large scale effort to create new standards between 2010 and 2015 was always going to give us something similar to what we got. The idea that there is some other type of “less-curricular” standards we realistically could have come up with doesn’t hold water.

3 Responses to There Is No Hypothetical “Other” Common Core

  1. Tom Hoffman says:

    “Does Johnson believe that in an alternate universe we could have had a radically different group of curriculum experts design a radically different set of standards? I think the answer is a resounding no.”

    Based on what? Are there any other countries with standards similar to the CCSS in ELA? No. I know because I looked at the benchmarking documents for the early Common Core drafts, and they were a joke. In fact, they wisely made the decision to remove those documents from their website and not do a formal comparison with other countries.

    Also, you can’t really sustain the argument that CC are very important but there is no real variety in standards, and the details don’t matter.

    • Eric Horowitz says:

      I probably wrote this more hastily/incoherently than I mean to, but my general gripe is with the notion that we were somehow sold a bill of goods. If you were skeptical of CCSS from the start and now believe that your worst fears have been realized, that’s a perfectly legitimate opinion. But I don’t buy the argument that what we ended up with was significantly different from what was promised or from what we should have expected at the outset.

  2. Tom Hoffman says:

    I do think people were sold a bill of goods at least in ELA, because the number of people who are motivated and capable of doing a serious analysis of standards as standards is apparently incredibly small, so pretty much everyone has just relied on commentary. Here’s an example example by Mike Petrilli from this morning:

    “Let me end on a hopeful note: I believe that the Common Core State Standards will help fix this problem. The English/language arts standards were heavily influenced by Hirsch’s thinking (which is why he’s endorsed them), as they expect students to engage with rich and challenging texts—both fiction and non-fiction in subjects like history, science, and geography—as early as possible.”

    The CCSS commentary has promoted the idea that the Common Core standards are well aligned with Hirsch’s ideas — and they aren’t really incompatible — but there is very little support in the standards themselves for the idea that these standards are particularly content-centric. To cite a trivial but telling example, the word “geography” does not actually appear in the standards at all, so the idea that the standards “expect” students to study it is false.

    The same is true from the other side pedagogically. The Reading and Writing Workshop folks are equally convinced that the standards back their approach, although they’re furious about some of the subsequent official commentary like the Publisher’s Criteria, which they think misrepresents the standards themselves.

    And of course the actual tests throws everything into further disarray. New York teachers have been following the official guidance and teaching students careful, thorough close reading techniques which were said to be in line with the Common Core, but when their students took the (secret) new Common Core assessments a couple weeks ago, students had insufficient time to actually use the techniques they were taught. So what should they teach next year for the Common Core tests? Close reading or skimming?

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